How to deal with the various pressures facing the inland fisheries of the Mekong Region especially hydropower dams on the mainstream Mekong River, was a key topic of discussion at the 2015 China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Forum (CAECF) held in Nanning, China from 16-18 September 2015.
By Agus Nugroho
Mr. Touch Bunthang, the deputy director of the Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute (IFReDI), and a key SUMERNET partner in Cambodia, shared information and perspectives about the huge importance to Cambodia of the Mekong’s inland fisheries and the various pressures it’s facing including from hydropower dams.
However, as the Mekong Region countries become more economically integrated, the inland fisheries are facing a diversity of pressures. Hydropower development on the mainstream Mekong River poses a major threat to the inland fisheries, according to IFReDI that has been involved in a comprehensive environmental assessment of the pressures on inland fisheries in Cambodia.
Dams on the mainstream Mekong River change river flows and fish habitats and migration patterns that can directly affect the productivity of fisheries, ultimately creating economic, social and environmental impacts for fishery-dependent communities.
During the forum, Mr. Touch Bunthang emphasised that an assessment of the social and environmental impacts on inland fisheries should be a key element in the development of hydropower infrastructure. In the light of Cambodia’s effort to develop a new EIA law, this experience can be a valuable input for more comprehensive technical and legal guide for EIA in Cambodia.
The inland wild capture fisheries of the Mekong Region is crucial to the food security of thousands of communities especially in Cambodia, providing an important and affordable source of protein. Fisheries also provides livelihoods, with about 70% of the households dependent for cash income and employment on the inland fisheries sector. A total of 1.5 million Cambodians are full-time fishers, mostly small-scale. More than 6 million people or about 40% of the country’s total population work as part-time fishers or are involved in fishery-related activities.
For Cambodia, inland fisheries provide an annual revenue of about US$ 1 billion accounting for about 12 per cent of the country’s GDP. Given that more than 86% of Cambodia’s territory lies within the Mekong catchment and its Tonle Sap or Great Lake is the largest and most productive lake in Southeast Asia, has made inland fisheries a key sector for Cambodia’s economic development.
Mr. Touch Bunthang was speaking at the CAECF panel on “Experiences and Practices on Environmental Impact Assessment”. The other speakers at the panel were: Ms. Zheng Shaoqing, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, Mr. Khuon Sokhady, Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, Mr. Souned Souliyaded, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) in Lao PDR, Ms. Duangrut Mookmanee (MONRE Thailand), and Ms. Esperanza Sajul, Department of Natural Resources (DENR), Philippines.
Held since 2011, CAECF is an annual event organised as a high-level policy dialogue platform on concerning environment, development, and cooperation in Southeast Asia Region, and particularly among China and the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries. Since it started, more than 800 representatives from China and ASEAN have participated including policy makers, entrepreneurs and the private sector, civil society, academics and international organisations
IFReDI is an active partner of SUMERNET since Phase 2 (2010-2013) collaborating in the research project “Transboundary fish trade in the Lower Mekong Basin: Impacts on fisheries and rural employment in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand”.
The SUMERNET project analysed the transboundary trade in fish between Stung Treng (Cambodia), Champassak (Lao PDR) and Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand) by following the fish market chain and understanding changes in catch figures, fishing techniques, fish stocks, species composition, trading channels, employment and consumer preferences as well as fisheries regulatory frameworks.